In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lucilius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Monographs
  • Bibliographies
  • Chronology of Lucilius’s Life and Works
  • Cultural and Political Context
  • Language
  • Versification Technique
  • Transmission

Classics Lucilius
Anna Chahoud
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 July 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0316


Gaius Lucilius (fl. c. 130 BCE–103/2 BCE) was the inventor of Roman satire as we know it. Born of an equestrian family from Suessa Aurunca in Campania, he was an affluent landowner, the great uncle of Pompey the Great, and as such intended for a senatorial career, which he proudly turned down to undertake a career unprecedented for a Roman citizen: Lucilius was the first non-professional poet in Rome. He was a prominent figure in the Middle Republic, a personal friend of Laelius and Scipio Aemilianus, under whom he served in the Numantine War in 134/3 BCE, and enjoyed such renown that he was awarded a public funeral, in Naples in 103/2 BCE. He had an extensive Greek education and contacts with Greek intellectuals of his time; the skeptic philosopher Clitomachus, Head of the Academy (c. 127/6–110–109 BCE), dedicated a work on problems of cognitive theory to him. Variety of themes, independence, and freedom of speech characterize his poetry, which he called sermones, “conversations,” apparently never using the term satura that his predecessor Ennius had given his experiments with miscellaneous verse. Personal poetry at Rome truly begins with Lucilius, whose pronounced subjectivity and unrestrained aggressiveness would become synonymous with satire itself for every subsequent writer in the genre, from Horace to Persius to Juvenal. Of Lucilius’s thirty books of verse satires––initially written in the iambo-trochaic meter of comic dialogue, before he settled on the hexameter––approximately thirteen hundred lines survive through the quotations of later writers from the late Republic through Late Antiquity.

General Overviews

These entries include introductions to Lucilius in the context of the genre of Roman verse satire (Coffey 1976, Rudd 1986, Freudenburg 2001, Hooley 2007) or within historical narratives of Latin literature (Gratwick 1982, Conte 1994, von Albrecht 1997). These works situate the beginnings of Roman satire within the hierarchy of poetic genres inherited from Greek literature and mediated by the contemporary innovations in Hellenistic poetry (Muecke 2005, Goldberg 2010), demonstrating Lucilius’s ability to draw (Greek) literary influences together and create a distinctively Roman genre. Lucilius’s poetry becomes an authoritative point of reference for Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, who all fashion themselves as literary heirs of their predecessor (Rosen 2012, in a volume devoted to exploring the themes of “poetic succession” and “legacy,” i.e., the anxiety of coming after a “classic”).

  • Coffey, Michael. 1976. Roman satire. London, New York: Duckworth.

    The most extensive introduction to Lucilius, with detailed discussion of biography and historical context, analysis of poetic program and Greek influences, and clear presentation of transmission, pp. 35–62.

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1994. Latin literature. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow. Revised by Don Fowler and Glenn W. Most. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    Useful narrative of Lucilius’s creation of the genre, pp. 112–117. Originally published in Italian in 1987 (Letteratura latina: Manuale storico dalle origini alla fine dell’impero romano. Florence: Le Monnier).

  • Freudenburg, Kirk. 2001. Satires of Rome: Threatening poses from Lucilius to Juvenal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511612985

    Despite its title, this eminently literary study does not include a dedicated section on Lucilius. Nevertheless, Freudenburg’s reconstruction of the origin and development of the genre provides an intriguing overview of Horace’s engagement with “his” Lucilius (chapter 1), along with useful discussions of specific points, e.g., parody of Ennius (pp. 89–92) and Lucilius’s position in iambic poetry (pp. 138–140).

  • Goldberg, Sander M. 2010. Constructing literature in the Roman Republic: Poetry and its reception. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This sophisticated study of the development of Roman literature devotes an entire chapter to the personal (although not necessarily autobiographical) voice of satire and its original aggressiveness, pp. 155–177.

  • Gratwick, Adrian. 1982. “The satires of Ennius and Lucilius.” In The Cambridge history of classical literature. II. Latin literature. Edited by Edward J. Kenney and Wendell V. Clausen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An excellent and thorough introduction to the beginnings of the genre, pp. 156–171.

  • Hooley, Daniel M. 2007. Roman satire. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470776261

    An elegant and concise introduction to the genre. On Lucilius, pp. 20–26.

  • Muecke, Frances. 2005. Rome’s first ‘satirists’: Themes and genre in Ennius and Lucilius. In Cambridge companion to Roman satire. Edited by Kirk Freudenburg, 33–47. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521803594.002

    This excellent narrative discusses Ennian precedents (including anecdotal, biographical, metapoetic, and quasi-satirical elements in the Annals) for Lucilius’s adoption of the genre-defining meter, the hexameter, and argues for the satirist’s higher social standing as a factor in his “self-assertion and political stance,” which would become the hallmark of the new genre.

  • Rosen, Ralph. 2012. Satire in the Republic: From Lucilius to Horace. In A companion to Persius and Juvenal. Edited by Susanna Braund and Josiah Osgood, 19–40. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Examines the role of Lucilius as “grandmaster” of Roman satire defined by libertas (freedom and freedom of speech) and nostalgically invoked by Lucilius’s successors. The second part of the chapter discusses Horace’s engagement in particular, with a detailed analysis of Horace’s “rewriting” of Lucilius in Serm. 1.4, 1.10 and 2.1.

  • Rudd, Niall. 1986. Themes in Roman satire. London: Duckworth.

    Extremely readable and insighful presentation of the distinctive features of the genre as established by Lucilius and developed by Horace, Persius, and Juvenal. Translation and discussion of select fragments are found in each chapter. This book is still the most comprehensive discussion of the subject.

  • von Albrecht, Michael. 1997. A history of Roman literature, from Livius Andronicus to Boethius, with special regard to its influence on world literature. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill.

    Offers a thorough analysis of “Roman satura” (pp. 241–250) and “Lucilius” (pp. 251–266), bringing out the importance of Lucilius as a pioneer in Roman literary culture in many respects: Lucilius must be seen as the founder of Roman satire and of Latin personal poetry, as the first Latin poet-critic, as the precursor of Lucretius and of later “philosophers of life.”

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